Part of what makes me so “whitewashed” is that I don’t speak Chinese. I had a private tutor to teach me Chinese for a few years when I was younger because I was too self-conscious to learn in a classroom setting. I dropped the language altogether when I entered middle school.

Boy, do I regret it.

It kind of sucks for me to not be able to communicate with my grandparents. Actually, I guess it’s not that I can’t communicate with them — they do speak decent English — but it goes without saying that their first language is Chinese, and it’s hard to have really comprehensive conversations with people when they don’t speak your language fluently and you sure as hell don’t speak theirs fluently. It’s a language barrier, and it complicates things.

Anyways, for 4 years I went without formally learning Chinese at all. At the beginning of these 4 years, I was mighty happy about that; Chinese lessons sucked because I had to do homework. Ew. So I went along, happily speaking my English and not letting the fact that I couldn’t speak Chinese bother me. I took a real pride in being able to speak and understand English well, and I thought that was enough.

But there came a time — about a year and a half ago or so — when I realized that the fact that I couldn’t speak a second language was lame. I learned Japanese at school for two years because my school didn’t offer Chinese, but I never got fluent. Heck, I’ll be lucky if I can remember how to say “hello”. And then I had all of my Chinese-American friends since elementary school speaking Chinese to each other. You know what was mortifying? When they’d try to include me in their Chinese conversations and I would just stand there and pray to God that they wouldn’t find out that I hadn’t the slightest clue what they were talking about.

So here I was, a few years of Chinese and a couple of years of Japanese under my belt, feeling sucky that despite having studied 2 foreign languages, the only language I was comfortable with was English.

I only started learning Chinese again over this past summer. I took a course designed for “heritage speakers” (which I wasn’t and am not, but my mom insisted I take the class anyways), and I did my best to keep up with all of the real heritage speakers. Of course, there were a couple of kids there who knew even less than I did — wow — but it was still pretty awkward to be hearing the teacher talking and not understanding. It was a lot of trial and error. But I actually got a lot out of it.

I’m taking Chinese at my school right now. Am I fluent? Nah. Can native speakers even understand me? Probs not. But it’s a step. I’m going to be fluent one day. I promise.


P.S: Yes, the “listening” thing is a joke. Kind of. I really am listening to it now.